Facilitation Means Designing Conversations

This post was first published on the Meeteor Blog

I’m a Facilitator….which means I’m a conversation designer.

When I design a meeting, a workshop or an off-site, my goal is to create an experience that shifts a group of people to a new trajectory, to transform teams and companies long after we work together. I do it by co-creating a powerful and engaging conversation with my clients using the tools of experience design applied to conversations.

If you want to master the tools of facilitation, apply to the Facilitation Masterclass here.

Designing a Meeting as an Experience

Earlier this year, I started a podcast called The Conversation Factory to find out if there’s a common thread running through how people foster effective, transformative, creative conversations. I’ve interviewed Harvard Negotiation Professors, Global Brand Strategists, Information Architects, Interaction Designers, Agile Coaches and Conversation Design Advocates at Google (of all places!).

The thread I see connecting all effective conversations is seeing those experiences as a design material that can be shaped, like the shape of a story arc. The shape of that arc is best described by the 5Es framework, first coined by the Doblin Group.

5Es of Experience Design: ENTICE, ENTER, ENGAGE, EXIT, EXTEND


The invitation to a meeting is one absolutely critical component that people often get wrong, leave out or miss the mark on. And I’m not just talking about the email you send out. Great products get it right. Think about all the unboxing videos on youtube, of people opening up their iPhones for the first time. The experience of that product is enticing *way* before you even turn it on!

Tool for inspiration: The Cover Story

I advised her to use a “future state” visioning tool called a “cover story mockup“. This activity includes creating a poster that shows the cover of a magazine featuring their successful product or project. What would get this internal tool on the cover of the Harvard Business Review? How can they knock it out of the ballpark? Sharing the goal of her meeting through a cover story activity with her team ahead of time made people eager to come out to the meeting and give their best creative efforts.


Getting people to leave their tech at their desk or turned off is one great way to get people to leave the world outside the meeting behind. So is a moment of mindful quiet, if your culture is cool with that.

I tend towards wanting to warm things up and move people towards the Engage phase rapidly, so I think of “energizers” and “thought starters” as a great way to enter into a meeting environment. I get asked about “warm up” or “icebreaker” activities in my coaching all the time. How can we design a meeting activity that really gets people into the world of the problem, to own it, and to be ready to roll up their sleeves? And how can it not be too silly?

Tool for inspiration: 5–10–20 Sketchstorm


Tool for inspiration: Divide and Conquer

Tool for inspiration: Mapping to Explore


Tool for inspiration: 2–2–2 Map

One great way to frame this perspective is a tool called 2 Days, 2 Weeks, 2 Months that I first learned about from Nobl, an org design company. Simply put, ask everyone to grab a piece of paper and write down what they will be doing to keep the project moving forward in those three time frames. Obviously, if your project is shorter or longer, you can map your own time frames, or use the Now/Next/Later framework. Having a quick share-around and a celebration is a solid way to make sure you leave the room with a boost to keep things moving forward.


Download the worksheet at my site (No, I won’t spam you. And no, you don’t have to pay for it, although tipping is allowed.)


“ALL REAL LIVING IS MEETING” — Martin Buber, philosopher

The next time you feel super happy with a product or a service, notice why. A chocolate on your pillow at a wonderful hotel. A masterful host at a fantastic restaurant. An amazing onboarding screen for a new app. An entertaining screen that asks you to please not unsubscribe from a newsletter or a 404 error screen that makes you laugh. These are moments that have been carefully designed for a particular phase of an experience and help bridge gaps and smooth things out.

You can use nuggets from those moments to make your meetings not just meetings, but extraordinary experiences that make them come alive.

If you want to master the tools of facilitation, apply to the Facilitation Masterclass here!

and if you’ve made it this far, consider signing up for my email list:

Host of theconversationfactory.com and @gothamsmith co-founder. Often riding bikes to the ocean.

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